White House aides: No Afghan decision before Thanksgiving—- procrastination taken to absurdity

White House aides: No Afghan decision before Thanksgiving

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 19, 2009 12:23 PM

SEOUL — President Obama will not announce his decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan before the Thanksgiving holiday, senior aides said Thursday.

The news came as the president greeted 1,500 troops at Osan Air Base in South Korea, just before boarding Air Force One and heading back to Washington after an eight-day trip to Asia.

Obama and his top military and diplomatic aides have been deliberating for months over how to proceed in Afghanistan, where the United States and its partners have sought for eight years to defeat the Taliban and deny al-Qaeda a safe haven from which it can plan and launch attacks.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has stated that without the deployment of up to 40,000 additional troops within the next year, the mission “will likely result in failure.” But some aides are arguing for a much smaller troop increase, and the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Karl W. Eikenberry, has questioned whether the Afghan government can be a reliable partner.

Obama said in interviews Wednesday that he would reveal his decision within the next several weeks. On Thursday, aides clarified that there would be no announcement before Thanksgiving, one week away. Senior administration officials said Obama intends to meet with his national security team again before going public with his plans.

Obama did not mention the looming decision in his remarks to U.S. troops, referring to the Afghan conflict only by thanking South Korea for its efforts and expressing gratitude to the American military personnel who have served there.

But he did discuss the region in his meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, whose government is sending 150 civilian aid workers to Afghanistan.

Obama arrived on the base 3:19 p.m. local time (1 a.m. Eastern Standard Time) and received a rousing welcome from 1,500 troops in camouflage uniforms, many holding cameras or pointing cell phones to snap pictures.

“You guys make a pretty good photo op,” the president said.

Standing on a riser wearing a blue suit and red tie, with a cluster of troops and a large American flag behind him, Obama expressed “the gratitude of the American public” and said his meetings in four countries over eight days in Asia will help deliver a “safer, more prosperous world for all of us.”

He got a huge cheer when he told them he was increasing military pay. “That’s what you call an applause line,” he said, before boarding his jet and taking off at 4:11 p.

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GAO Says More Than 50,000 Jobs Claimed From Stimulus Projects That Have Spent No Money — More Obama Lies

GAO Says More Than 50,000 Jobs Claimed From Stimulus Projects That Have Spent No Money

November 19th, 2009

By JONATHAN KARL and MATTHEW JAFFE, ABC

 Obama’s Stimulus has been a total failure

More than 50,000 jobs, or one out of every 10 jobs the White House says were “saved or created” by their economic stimulus plan, came from projects that reported spending no money yet, according to a government report obtained by ABC News.

The report by the Government Accountability Office analyzes the administration’s October 2009 report on jobs saved or created by the $787 billion stimulus program and finds a “range of significant reporting and processing problems that need to be addressed.”

Even with the errors, GAO gives the Obama administration high marks for its efforts at transparency and in making so much information public in such a short period of time.

“Given the national scale of the recipient reporting exercise and the limited time frames in which it was implemented,” the report says, “[recovery.gov] represents a solid first step in moving toward more transparency and accountability for federal funds.”

Read More:

Culture of corruption: Holder, terrorists, Covington & Burling

Michelle Malkin 

Lead Story

Culture of corruption: Holder, terrorists, Covington & Burling

By Michelle Malkin  •  November 18, 2009 02:00 PM

Update: 11/19 9am…Holder hedges on GOP request for disclosure/recusal information


Attorney General Eric Holder, Team Obama’s Dirty Dozen (get your trading cards here)

If you’ve been paying attention, you already know all about AG Eric Holder and his DOJ staff’s national security conflict of interest as senior partner with Covington & Burling — the prestigious Washington, D.C. law firm, which represents 17 Yemenis currently held at Gitmo.

I first mentioned it here in January and spotlighted the problem in chapter 4 of Culture of Corruption.

In fact, Holder and Covington & Burling have a lucrative niche in terrorist representation.

I’m reprinting the relevant section from Culture of Corruption so you have it at your fingertips. All of this was known before Holder was confirmed as AG, which, as I’ve pointed out before, makes it all the more inexplicable that 19 Republican senators — Alexander (R-TN); Bennett (R-UT); Bond (R-MO); Chambliss (R-Ga); Collins (R-ME); Corker (R-TN); Graham (R-SC); Grassley (R-IA); Gregg (R-NH); Hatch (R-UT); Isakson (R-GA;) Kyl (R-AZ); Lugar (R-IN) McCain (R-AZ); Murkowski (R-AK); Sessions (R-AL); Snowe (R-ME); Specter (R-PA); and Voinovich (R-OH) — cast their votes for him. Now, they are reaping what they helped sow.

Excerpted from Chapter 4: Meet the Mess – Inside the Crooked Cabinet, Culture of Corruption, by Michelle Malkin (see book for footnotes)

“Don’t go into corporate America,” First Lady Michelle Obama admonished supporters on the campaign trail. Remember? She extolled the rewards of public service over the material perks of life at a high-powered law firm. She certainly didn’t take her own advice—and neither did her husband’s own attorney general. If he hadn’t pulled out all the stops campaigning for the president, raising money at lavish celebrity events, and offering his strategic and legal advice—and if Eric Holder had an “R” by his name instead of a “D”—he might have served as the perfect poster boy for Mrs. O’s caustic campaign against white-shoe corporate law.

After a quarter-century as a government lawyer, Holder joined the prestigious Covington & Burling business and corporate law firm. He represented a gallery of the Left’s fattest targets in Big Pharma and Big Business, defending them in fraud and discrimination cases that drove progressives mad. Holder has served both his corporate and government masters well—and he has the bank account and stock portfolio to prove it. His salary jumped from under $200,000 as deputy U.S. Attorney General for the Clinton administration to more than $2 million a year as a Covington & Burling senior partner. During 2008, Holder spent countless hours away from his corporate office working for the Obama campaign—raising money, fielding calls, making speeches. “I hope the management committee is going to be real understanding when they see my billable hours this year,” Holder joked to The American Lawyer. It’s an investment, of course, and the law firm will get its political dividends later.

Holder returns to a more modest $186,000 salary as Obama’s attorney general. But parting has its perks, too. The Washington revolving door pays.

Covington & Burling will make a separation payment valued at between $1 million and $5 million, plus a repayment of up to $1 million from the firm’s capital account, plus a retirement plan of up to $500,000. His net worth: $5.7 million. Reflecting on his past eight years raking in the dough and watching him schmooze friends and clients from his “elegant new Manhattan offices,” an American Lawyer profile observed: “Life is good for private citizen Eric Holder, Jr.” President Obama and the missus, such outspoken detractors of climbing the corporate ladder and influence-peddling, were unavailable for comment.

One wonders what the Obamas would say about Holder’s lucrative work for Chiquita Brands International if it had been performed by, say, John McCain’s top lawyer? As chief counsel for the global company, Holder won a “slap-on-the-wrist plea deal to charges that it had paid off” {citation for this quote…or why is it in quotes?} Colombian paramilitary death squads. Liberal critics of Holder point out that he used his influence as a former Clinton Justice Department official to negotiate a sweetheart deal for Chiquita. The company pleaded guilty to illegally doing business with the “Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia” or AUC (designated as an international terrorist organization by the State Department in 2001). Chiquita admitted negotiating with and forking over $1.7 million in protection racket money to the guerillas beginning in 1997. AUC terrorists slaughtered thousands of civilians to gain control of Colombia’s banana fields. The company ignored the advice of outside counsel (not Holder or anyone else at Covington & Burling) to stop the illegal payments in 2003:

• “Must stop payments.”
• “Bottom Line: CANNOT MAKE THE PAYMENT”
• “Advised NOT TO MAKE ALTERNATIVE PAYMENT through CONVIVIR”
• “General Rule: Cannot do indirectly what you cannot do directly”
• Concluded with: “CANNOT MAKE THE PAYMENT”
• “You voluntarily put yourself in this position. Duress defense can wear out through repetition. Buz [business] decision to stay in harm’s way. Chiquita should leave Colombia.”
• “[T]he company should not continue to make the Santa Marta payments, given the AUC’s designation as a foreign terrorist organization[.]”
• “[T]he company should not make the payment.”

Even after disclosing the payments to the Justice Department in the spring of 2003, Chiquita continued funneling money to the terrorists. According to the Justice Department: “From April 24, 2003 (the date of Chiquita’s initial disclosure to the Justice Department) through February 4, 2004, Chiquita made 20 payments to the AUC totaling over $300,000.” And yet, despite knowingly and repeatedly breaking the law, not a single Chiquita official was prosecuted or jailed. The $25 million criminal fine was written off as the cost of doing business. And, stunningly, the plea agreement forged by Holder and the DOJ succeeded in protecting the identities of the executives involved in the bloody terrorist payoffs.
Putting on the best terrorist defense is a Covington & Burling specialty. Among the firm’s other celebrity terrorist clients: 17 Yemenis held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The law firm employed dozens of radical attorneys such as David Remes and Marc Falkoff to provide the enemy combatants with more than 3,000 hours of pro bono representation. Covington & Burling co-authored one of three petitioners’ briefs filed in the Boumediene v. Bush detainee case, and secured victories for several other Gitmo enemy combatants in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Falkoff went on to publish a book of poetry, Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak, which he dedicated to the suspected terrorists: “For my friends inside the wire, Mahmoad, Majid, Yasein, Saeed, Abdulsalam, Mohammed, Adnan, Jamal, Othman, Adil, Mohamed, Abdulmalik, Areef, Adeq, Farouk, Salman, and Makhtar. Inshallah, we will next meet over coffee in your homes in Yemen.”

How sweet. One of the class of Yemeni Gitmo detainees that Falkoff described as “gentle, thoughtful young men” was released in 2005—only to blow himself up (gently and thoughtfully, of course) in a truck bombing in Mosul, Iraq, in 2008, killing 13 soldiers from the 2nd Iraqi Army division and seriously wounding 42 others.

The Senate shrugged at the glaring conflict of interest Attorney General Holder presents in handling Gitmo legal issues. Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Cucullu, author of Inside Gitmo: The True Story Behind the Myths of Guantanamo Bay, makes the ethical problem plain:

As a senior partner, he undoubtedly had significant input on what kind of charity cases his firm picked up. He surely knew that dozens of lawyers from his firm were among the 500-plus civilian lawyers representing the 244 or so remaining detainees (on top of military-court-appointed defenders). Even now, his Covington colleagues continue to allege rampant torture at Gitmo. They’re fighting hard to have detainees tried through the US court system—essentially given the same rights as US citizens. And their arguments and plans hinge largely on having Holder issue a bad report card.

Recent polls indicate that at least half of Americans disagree with affording the detainees legal rights on US soil. Will they have the same access to Holder’s ears as his former colleagues do?

The White House says that Holder will formally recuse himself from charging decisions and prosecutions affecting any of Covington & Burling’s clients, but he will have unfettered oversight over Obama’s order to close the facility within a year. Moreover, there’s a gaping loophole in the Obama administration ethics rules that will allow Holder to participate in decision-making despite his conflicts of interests if he can show that his participation in a matter outweighs an appearance or actual conflict of interest. If you think Holder’s professional connections won’t have any influence on the outcome of these decisions, I have a Colombian banana farm to sell you.

Among the other eyebrow-raising cases Holder took on at Covington & Burling:

*Signing up to assist then Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in a casino license battle in 2004. The state’s gaming board had approved the construction of a disputed casino, overruling the recommendation of the board’s staff. Rank-and-file investigators had qualms over the casino developer’s alleged mob ties and over Blago’s appointment of a crony fund-raiser to oversee the state’s deal-making with the casino. The fund-raiser, Christopher Kelly, turned out to be a business partner of convicted Obama/Blago confidante and real estate mogul Tony Rezko. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Rezko “held an option to lease a hotel site next to the proposed casino site.” Holder held a public press conference with Blago to announce his role as a special “independent” investigator into the matter. The dog-and-pony show produced no report, but Holder and his law firm had contracted to conduct the probe for a tidy $300,000. Somehow, the foul-smelling case slipped Holder’s mind; he failed to mention it in his Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.

*Forging a massive settlement for Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the addictive painkiller OxyContin, with the state of West Virginia in 2004. The state accused the drugmaker of deceptively marking OxyContin as safe and effective for minor pain. The firm’s marketing practices, the state maintained, led to West Virginia users becoming addicted to the drug. State attorney general Darrell McGraw Jr., a Democrat, filed suit. In an article entitled, “Why Eric Holder Represents What’s Wrong with Washington,” liberal columnist David Corn described Holder’s pivotal role in negotiating a settlement that spared executives a criminal trial:

This suit was a serious threat to the drugmaker, and it eventually called in Holder. And in November 2004, the morning that the case was about to go to trial, Holder helped negotiate a settlement. Working in the judge’s chambers in West Virginia, he forged an agreement under which the firm would have to pay $10 million over four years into drug abuse and education programs in West Virginia. Purdue would not have to admit any wrongdoing. (Days earlier, the firm had offered the state about $2 million to settle; McGraw had turned down Purdue and had not bothered to produce a counter-offer.)

The settlement was a big win for the company. Ten million dollars was a piddling amount compared to what Purdue was reaping from OxyContin sales. More important, this settlement helped keep the lid on the firm’s criminal activities. There would be no trial—and no public release of documents or testimony about the company’s actions, which were already being investigated by federal prosecutors. In late 2002, the feds had begun an investigation of Purdue, with the first of what would be nearly 600 subpoenas for corporate records related to the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of OxyContin.

In May 2007, the company and its three top executives pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraudulently marketing OxyContin by claiming it was less addictive, less subject to abuse, and less likely to cause withdrawal symptoms. Purdue and the three execs agreed to pay fines of $634.5 million.

*Brokering a settlement for pharmaceutical kingpin Merck, which had been besieged by multiple state lawsuits over Medicaid overbilling and doctor kickbacks involving four popular drugs. Merck admitted no wrongdoing, paying $671 million to make whistleblowers, state probes over their pricing, and bribery charges go away.

In his tony Manhattan offices, Holder did what any corporate lawyer worth his multi-million-dollar salary and benefits package would do: Represent his clients to the best of his ability. But in his first tours of duty as a government lawyer, Holder repeatedly put politics above the national interest. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Holder’s infamous roles in issuing pardons to Clinton crony Marc Rich and clemency to convicted bank robbers and bombers of the Puerto Rican terrorist group, FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional), received the most heat. In both cases, the government servant played a far more active role in intervening than he ever cared to admit.

The Los Angeles Times added new information to the terrorist clemency case by disclosing before the hearing that Holder had “repeatedly pushed some of his subordinates at the Clinton Justice Department to drop their opposition to” the FALN commutations. Holder, the paper determined from whistleblower interviews and documents, “played an active role in changing the position of the Justice Department” to facilitate President Clinton’s commutations for 16 violent terrorists from the group. The FALN had waged a bloody bombing campaign that maimed dozens of New York City police officers and resulted in the deaths or injuries of scores of other victims. Holder forged ahead with his meddling on behalf of the president against the protests of the FBI, NYPD, federal prosecutors, and victims.

The nation’s top law enforcer did not pay the bombing victims or their families the courtesy of notifying them of the decision to release the unrepentant terrorists until after the clemencies were publicized in the media.

As for the Marc Rich case, former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy accurately described it as “one of the most disgraceful chapters in the history of the Justice Department.” Congressional investigators called it “unconscionable.” Fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich, on the run for evading nearly $50 million in taxes, found the best lawyer he could buy: former Democratic White House counsel and intimate friend of Eric Holder, Jack Quinn. Despite his denials, memos showed Holder knew of the pardon in advance, failed to notify prosecutors and the FBI that it was coming, “and even gave Quinn public-relations advice on getting out the ‘legal merits of the case.’” The evidence clearly shows Holder and Quinn violated department protocols and colluded to keep the Justice Department out of the pardon deal.

Appearing contrite at his Senate confirmation hearing, Holder confessed:

I’ve accepted the responsibility of making those mistakes. I’ve never tried to hide. I’ve never tried to blame anybody else.

What I’ve always said was that, given my—given the opportunity to do it differently, I certainly would have.

I should have made sure that everybody, all the prosecutors in that case, were informed of what was going on. I made assumptions that turned out not to be true. I should have not spoken to the White House and expressed an opinion without knowing all of the facts with regard to that matter.

That was and remains the most intense, most searing experience I’ve ever had as a lawyer. There were questions raised about me that I was not used to hearing.

I’ve learned from that experience. I think that, as perverse as this might sound, I will be a better attorney general, should I be confirmed, having had the Mark Rich experience.

…It was something that I think is not typical of the way in which I’ve conducted myself as a careful, thoughtful lawyer. As I said, it is something where I made mistakes, and I learned from those mistakes.

Washington, alas, was determined to repeat the mistakes of the past. The Senate, including 19 Republicans, confirmed Holder on February 2, 2009.

A Tale of Two Community Organizers

A Tale of Two Community Organizers

By Elinor Lynn Warner

In 1970 America, two infamous organizations were gearing up for big things. Wade Rathke founded ACORN in Arkansas and soon after moved its headquarters to New Orleans.  Jim Jones was building the Peoples Temple and set up operations in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Rathke and Jones were gifted community organizers utilizing Democrat politicians, a compliant media, and vulnerable citizens to further their quest for power and money. Their identical pretense was helping the poor and downtrodden.

Jim Jones could round up crowds of protesters and door to door campaign workers on demand.  Admired and enabled by San Francisco Democrats and media moguls, Jones gathered emotionally and economically needy people around him, pretending to be a minister to their needs. He forced them to drain their bank accounts, sign over their homes and their welfare and social security checks. 
Jones gave their money generously to the Democrat liberal elite and stashed millions in illegal overseas accounts. When Democrats needed a crowd of thousands, Jones provided his willing flock.  He ran faith healing and miracle scams. He loved and admired communism, Mao, Lenin, Marx, and Angela Davis. He railed against capitalism, but was ready to pocket all that his followers signed over to him.  He was a sought after Democrat community organizer masquerading as a man of faith:
We are not really a church, but a socialist organization.  We must pretend to be a church so we’re not taxed by the government…    Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion had to be brought into enlightenment – socialism. [Seductive Poison by Deborah Layton.]
While Jones peddled the drug of religion and talked socialism, he imposed communism. Once his followers were hooked, he trapped them in his demoralizing dictatorship, all under the guise of fighting poverty and prejudice. The hierarchy of the Peoples Temple was largely white and the congregation mostly black, yet Jones engineered fake letter writing campaigns to call attention to himself as an embattled racism warrior:
We produced hundreds of letters that were driven out of state and mailed from different locations to members of congress and local government figures…  The letters looked as if they came from racists, angry at Jim’s attempts to help the poor and people of color.  The correspondence exhibited unharnessed racism, using the term “nigger-lover” to describe him and his good deeds. [Seductive Poison by Deborah Layton]
Jones cried racism in the face of an unflattering story set to run in New West Magazine.  In an effort to kill the story, he asked the editor:

Tell me, Rosalie, do you believe that this article will solve the problems Marshall Kilduff [New West writer] seems to have with people of color?  [Ibid.]
Like recent Acorn whistle blowers, Peoples Temple whistleblowers feared for their lives and reputations.  Jones had volumes of blackmail-ready tape recordings of his Planning Committee members “proving their loyalty to socialism by revealing their worst secrets.” [Ibid.] 
A true believer who had joined the Peoples Temple as a lost 18 year old, Deborah Layton became a whistleblower and proved to be Jones’ downfall. But not soon enough to save over 900 lives, including 276 children.  Those with political power just looked away.
Jones understood the necessity of friends in high places.
Tim Stoen [church attorney] was being hired as chief prosecutor in an investigation into allegations that large numbers of non-residents had voted illegally in the 1975 election. Stoen would end up using volunteer clerical workers from the Temple in this sensitive investigation.  Later, similar voter fraud allegations would be leveled against the Temple itself, though not proved. 
…Jones often-denied ambitions for political recognition and power. It was not even enough that Gov. Brown appointed church attorney Tim Stoen in April 1976 to serve on the California Advisory Council to the Legal Services Corporation… he [Jones] wanted more than to host the Jan. 15, 1977 city wide celebration in honor of MLK, Jr…. more than to share the podium that day with Gov. Jerry Brown and the head of President Carter’s transition team.  [Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones by Tim Reiterman]
The big Democrat names and newspaper editors in 1970 San Francisco sat in Jones’ pews and either bought his act or just liked his payoffs and power. But in 1977, things began to spin out of Jones’ tight control and a few frank stories of his oppressive Peoples Temple saw the light of day. 
Jones fled to socialist Guyana where the constraints of polite society would not hinder him. He paid off government officials and isolated his flock as he set up his dream dictatorship.  When the move spiraled out of control, a congressman investigating the group, an NBC news crew, and some disenchanted Jones followers were all gunned down as they tried to board planes to depart and tell their story.
Later on that day in November of 1978, nearly one thousand forsaken men, women and children, virtual prisoners of Jim Jones, were forced to drink cyanide laced Kool-Aid. They died hideous deaths in the communist paradise of Jonestown, Guyana, a perfect snapshot of a communist dictator’s respect for humanity.  The media preferred the story line that Jones was a crazed religious zealot and cult leader. The story of Jones’ help from friendly big name Democrats was also swept away.
More businesslike, stable and enduring than Jim Jones, Wade Rathke built a nationwide taxpayer funded partisan criminal enterprise. He was also enabled by like-minded Democrats and the media. Partisan protection of ACORN continues today, even from career politicians like Jerry Brown.  Remember that Brown assisted Jones by placing the Temple attorney in a position of political power.  Brown is either a naïve man or he lusts for the political power both Jones and ACORN wielded. He is not alone.
Now ACORN’s tentacles reach many organizations, including the Communist Party USA  (CPUSA), which wrote glowingly about highly partisan campaign work in 2004:
The chair of ACORN and Working Families Party called upon us as family to make our contribution known. Did we respond? YES, we responded!
In 2008, the CPUSA website gushed:

The grand coalition of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win along with National Council of La Raza, Women’s Vote, ACORN, MoveOn and Rock the Vote has launched the biggest ever-independent voter mobilization, which is at the heart of winning a massive turnout on Election Day and after.
Numerous voter fraud and corruption investigations, ACORN’s links to the CPUSA, labor unions and other questionable and partisan groups did not interest the traditional media. Most often it praised and protected this massive community organization.  In the face of a couple of young adults’ recent undercover ACORN sting, the traditional media was first shamed into coverage, but now has no interest in getting to the bottom of any of it. 
Wade Rathke’s replacement, ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis, responded to the video evidence of nationwide corruption in her organization with the false cry of racism.  This is a familiar tactic used by determined community organizers emboldened by political friends and a sympathetic media.  ACORN’s ties to big name Democrats resemble Jim Jones’ San Francisco political alliances on four decades of steroids. A glance into Bertha Lewis’s Rolodex reveals the private contact information on Patrick Gaspard, former SEIU VP, and the current ‘Karl Rove’ of the Obama administration. Friends in high places prove lucrative.
Like a good communist leader, Jones squirreled away millions in off shore accounts.  The recent raid on ACORN offices in New Orleans seeks to find evidence of Dale Rathke’s embezzlement and a cover-up by Wade Rathke.  ACORN national board members with sincere motives and questions about this financial wrongdoing were fired.  Like many in the Peoples Temple, these members believed that their mission was altruistic, that community organizing was to benefit the needy.
The reality is that both Jones and the leaders of ACORN used the weak and good hearted to line their own pockets and further their own power.  Similar themes of exploitation, communism, race baiting, intimidation, and dishonesty run through their stories. Their stroke of genius was to support Democrats and in so doing, buy off the media.  Despite lessons learned from the largest mass murder-suicide in history, this formula for unfettered corruption continues unabated.

Page Printed from: http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/11/a_tale_of_two_community_organi.html at November 19, 2009 – 09:51:42 AM EST

Obama rewards big donors with plum jobs overseas

Obama rewards big donors with plum jobs overseas
By: Jeanne Cummings
November 19, 2009 09:37 AM EST
He may have promised to change Washington, but President Barack Obama is continuing one of its most renowned patronage traditions: bestowing prized ambassadorships on big donors.

Of the nearly 80 ambassadorship nominations or confirmations since Obama’s Inauguration, 56 percent were given to political appointees and 44 percent have gone to career diplomats, according to records kept by the American Foreign Service Association.

The latest nomination came this week, when Beatrice Wilkinson Welters was nominated to serve as ambassador to the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.

Welters, a longtime advocate for underprivileged children, and her husband, Anthony, an executive with UnitedHealth Group, generated between $200,000 and $500,000 in donations to Obama’s presidential campaign and an additional $100,000 for his Inauguration, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks political giving.

The Welters can be counted among the nearly two dozen Obama bundlers — fundraisers who together organized and solicited more than $10 million in donations during the 2008 campaign — who now are being dispatched to some of the world’s greatest cities.

Charles H. Rivkin, a Los Angeles-based children’s television executive and an $800,000 bundler, is in Paris; Alan Solomont, a Boston-based investor and $500,000 bundler, is in Madrid; Louis B. Susman, a Chicago investor and $500,000 bundler, is in London; and Don Beyer, a Virginia Volvo dealer and $745,000 bundler, is in Bern, Switzerland.

Nicole Avant, a member of a Motown family dynasty who is credited with bundling up to $800,000 for Obama, was granted the coveted and cushy ambassadorship in Nassau, Bahamas.

Beyond the bundlers, Obama’s ambassador ranks are also teeming with good, old-fashioned, loyal Democrats who have given generously to the party but weren’t ranked among his top fundraisers.

Counted on those rolls are newly installed Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy, former finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee who since 1989 has personally donated nearly $1.5 million to the party; and Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Costa Rica, Anne Slaughter Andrew, an environmental attorney whose husband, Joe, is a former DNC chairman who provided a well-timed endorsement of Obama during the extended 2008 primary against then-Sen. Hillary Clinton.

For career diplomats, the selection of amateurs is always galling. “It is time to stop this spoils system and these de facto, three-year-term rentals of ambassadorships,” said Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association.

“We believe the appointment of noncareer individuals, however accomplished they may be in their own field, to lead American diplomatic missions should be exceptional and circumscribed and not the routine practice it has become over the last three or four decades,” she added.

The politicization of the diplomatic corps, which began in the 1960s, is of increasing concern to some foreign policy experts, given the rise of terrorism and the need for greater coordination between the U.S. and foreign governments on national security issues.

Diplomatic posts that may once have largely involved ceremonial appearances now can be focused on issues such as human and drug trafficking, kidnappings, war and intelligence sharing. With that worldview, “We believe America is best served by having career foreign service officers, just as we have career military officers,” Johnson said.

Obama never promised an end to the practice of ambassadorial patronage. In an appearance before his Inauguration, he said, “it would be disingenuous for me to suggest that there are not going to be some” political appointments.

 

But what has surprised some foreign policy experts is how traditionally Obama has defined the word “some”: Thus far, the president has not plucked a single career diplomat to fill a traditional political appointment.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said it is unfair to judge the Obama administration by its first wave of ambassadorial nominations, because most of the openings involve traditional political posts recently vacated by Bush administration appointees.

More career diplomatic posts, which run on staggered, three-year terms, will begin opening up in the next year or two. That should produce a second wave of nominations dominated by professional foreign service officers, he added.

“We’re well-aware of the historical target of career vs. noncareer ambassadors, and we will be right on that target,” said Vietor.

That historic benchmark is roughly 30 percent political appointees to 70 percent career diplomats, and Obama seems on track to meet it.

But Johnson said the career diplomatic community had hoped for more than just the status quo from a candidate who campaigned on a vision of transforming Washington into a city less beholden to special interests and wealthy political benefactors.

“There is a bit of disappointment largely because expectations were raised by the ‘change’ theme of Obama’s campaign and that there would no longer be ‘business as usual’ in Washington,” she said.

Equally disappointing — but perhaps more expected — to career diplomats is that the distribution of assignments shows no sign of changing: The political appointees get the big mansions in big-name countries, while the careerists pack off to Haiti, Zimbabwe, Serbia and other less inviting postings.

To be sure, many of Obama’s new ambassadors are accomplished executives who were schooled in the nuances of diplomacy in corporate boardrooms rather than in foreign capitals.

They also bring to their embassies the gravitas and personal ties needed to cut through the State Department bureaucracy and speak directly to the president when a situation requires it — an asset some U.S. allies have come to expect and demand.

And several of Obama’s chosen diplomats have foreign policy backgrounds and are noted experts in their new areas of work.

For instance, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is a well-known expert on foreign affairs, as is Ivo H. Daalder, ambassador to NATO. Rivkin, the new ambassador to France, is the son of a diplomat and was a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.

The president has, occasionally, tweaked the patronage mold.

His selection of then-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican who had bundled $100,000 for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, as his ambassador to China was a shock to Republicans who had seen Huntsman as a possible GOP presidential candidate. And in choosing Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis as ambassador to Hungary, Obama chose someone who had bundled $100,000 — for Hillary Clinton.

An even more surprising pick was Obama’s choice for ambassador to the Holy See, a coveted post for Roman Catholics. Obama’s choice, Miguel H. Diaz, an associate professor of theology at St. John’s University, has made one political donation in his life: a $1,000 check to Obama’s campaign.

But Dave Levinthal, communications director at the Center for Responsive Politics, said, “At least to date, it’s clear that a notable number of the ambassador nominees have been bundlers, and more have been donors. Those numbers appear to speak for themselves.”